I love a good day trip. For me, about a one-hour drive from my town is the perfect distance, but I am willing to drive two to three for a good destination. The Raleigh-Durham area makes a great base to explore North Carolina. Heading south of Raleigh for these day trips, once you exit the highways, you will find country roads through farmland and rural areas. It is a nice change of pace from the big city and traffic.
Note: Some of the information in this article was obtained during press trips in the area. All opinions are my own.
Just an 80-minute drive from Raleigh, Pinehurst is known as “The Cradle of American Golf and legendary golfers such as Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer and many more have played here. Before there was golf, founder James Walker Tufts established the Village of Pinehurst with a plan by legendary landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted in 1895. His plan created the lovely village streets and green space you can now enjoy today and most of the original buildings still exist. The best way to explore this lovely village is on foot. Print out the Cherokee Route walking tour or drop into the visitor center and purchase the Village of Pinehurst: A Historic Walking Tour for a more in depth tour. There are darling local shops and many yummy places to eat in the village. The Pinehurst Greenway meanders for six miles on pedestrian and bicycle-only trails. There’s easy access to shops, restaurants, and parks. Make sure to stop at the Pinehurst Arboretum with its beautiful walking trails and gardens.
The Village of Pinehurst is a very upscale community with all kinds of amenities. Indulge in a spa day at the Spa at Pinehurst. The luxurious Carolina Hotel is known as the “Queen of the South” and is the epitome of historic grand dame hotels steeped with elegance and Southern charm. Drop into the Carolina Coffee Shop to enjoy a coffee or a light lunch on the hotel’s front veranda.
2. Southern Pines
Southern Pines is a little over an hour’s drive from Raleigh. Start your visit at the Southern Pines train station located in the heart of downtown. Built in 1898, it is still an active train station with Amtrak service to Raleigh. It is also the location for the visitor center where you can get some great information about what to do on your visit. That’s how I found out about the Taxidermy Hall of Fame. What an experience. It is in the Christian Book Store, and you can buy some homemade fudge then look at the mishmash of a museum with over 200 animals preserved by taxidermy. It also houses the world’s oldest rock according to the owner. Plan to spend some time exploring downtown. It is an old railroad town, so the tracks run right through the middle with shops and restaurants on either side.
If you like golf, stop in for a visit to the Carolinas Golf Association Hall of History. It has an interesting collection of clubs, photos, trophies, and memorabilia from the many people who made this area one of the most historic golf locales. The Weymouth Center for the Arts & Humanities is a beautiful way to spend a day. The center is on a 26-acre estate that was once the home of James and Katharine Boyd. In the Boyd house, you can visit the North Carolina Literary Hall of Fame (note the historic home is not ADA compliant) which is in James’ former study. The mansion also has cultural events such as music concerts and poetry readings. Outside, you can stroll the beautiful formal gardens or for a longer hike, access the Boyd Round Timber Tract with an extensive trail system. This is part of the Weymouth Woods Sandhills Nature Preserve.
There is so much to see and do in Fayetteville that this destination could easily be multiple day trips. I recommend going to the Visit Fayetteville website and choosing one of the Cultural Heritage Trails. These are themed drives that will take you around Fayetteville and into Cumberland County. There are so many choices it can be tough to choose. Fayetteville is known as “America’s Hometown,” and it is filled with history. Many of the trails focus on that history with an American Independence Trail, a Civil War Trail, and many more. There are cultural trails and even an International Food Trail.
One of the highlights of my visit was exploring the Cape Fear Botanical Gardens which is just two miles from downtown and situated on 80 acres. It contains so many gorgeous specialty gardens including Camellia, Daylily, a Shade Garden, a Butterfly Stroll, and a Heritage Garden. Make sure to go in the morning before it gets too hot. Be certain you allow enough time to explore the Cape Fear Museum Complex. In addition to the two-story museum, you can take a tour of the historic 1897 Poe House and explore Arsenal Park.
4. Moores Creek National Battlefield
I love a National Park site for a day trip. The Moores Creek National Battlefield is about a two-hour drive from Raleigh. The site commemorates a Revolutionary War battle that took place in February 1776 and lasted only about 3 minutes. It was the first decisive victory for the patriots in the American Revolution. Plan to tour the small museum and watch the movie about the battle. Head out to walk the two interpretive trails, the History Trail and the Tarheel Trail which combined, are one mile. The park and trail are really beautiful, especially in the morning hours. Also, on site is a picnic area if you wish to extend your visit.
The park is very accessible. The two interpretive trails are wheelchair accessible with benches along the way for resting or just enjoying the natural surroundings. The visitor center has ADA- accessible doors.
Pro Tip: You can combine this trip with a visit to Burgaw for a longer day trip.
The quaint little town of Burgaw is known for its picturesque settings that have caught the eye of Hollywood. Several television shows and movies were filmed here. It is about a 90-minute drive from Raleigh. Begin your day with a stop at the Pender County Visitor Center. It is on the first floor of the old Pender County Jail which was built in 1924. The second floor of the building was the jail and was restored to its original condition. Pick up a walking tour of downtown and enjoy the morning exploring the shops and viewing the 18th and 19th centuries architecture. A must stop is the Burgaw Train Depot which is the oldest in North Carolina and a site on the Civil War Trail.
For lunch, Mema’s Chick’n & Ribs is a must. It’s only been open since 2017 and its reputation has been spread by word of mouth. Make sure to check out the map where people from all over the world have left notes about their visit. Owners Myra and James McDuffie have created a very special place. I felt like I had a nice warm hug after eating here which is a pleasant feeling during these COVID times. The menu is heavy on Soul food and based on James’ mother Mary McDuffie’s recipes. She still comes in every day to cook. Everything is super fresh. Mary actually picks the collard greens from the fields so that they meet her exacting standards. James starts smoking the meat at 4:30 a.m. There are no leftovers, once they are out that’s it. His ribs are the best I have ever had. The barbecue sauce is served on the plate because it is so good people kept taking the bottles. The area is also known for its seafood. You will find only local, fresh, and never frozen Stump Sound oysters, shrimp, and catfish. Before you leave, children get a pick from a toy box and adults choose a card from the Blessing Box.
6. Have A Beach Day
There are so many beautiful beaches in North Carolina that make a great day trip from Raleigh. Get an early start. Pack all your beach gear, a picnic lunch, and a cooler full of ice-cold drinks. Plan to have dinner at one of the many great seafood restaurants along the coast before heading home. Check this article out for some beaches that are a 2-3 hour drive from Raleigh: 7 Best Beaches To Visit Near Wilmington, North Carolina.
Raleigh has everything a big city has to offer but sometimes it’s nice to get out of the city on a day trip. Driving country roads away from the traffic and crowds is a great way to unwind. These are just a few examples of the many day trips you can take from Raleigh.
The Raleigh-Durham area of North Carolina gives visitors the chance to experience some of the best attractions the state has to offer: